The Economic and Social Impacts to India and Its Citizens from Inward Foreign Direct Investment

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5.6: Ethics

The research plan was reviewed and approved by the University Ethics-Co-Coordinator of the Sociological department prior to commencing the fieldwork. A participant information sheet regarding the study was provided to each participant along with a consent form. The information sheet included information concerning anonymity and data storage. Both the information sheet and consent form had been previously reviewed and approved by the University and are included in the Appendix (Appendix 4 and 5). I asked each participant to sign and date the consent form prior to the interview. Permission was sought to audio record interviews and it was explained that handwritten notes could be taken should the respondent feel uncomfortable with or object to audio recordings. All but one participant agreed to being recorded. Recording devices were turned off if phone calls were taken and it was explained that the respondent could ask for the recording to be turned off at any time during the interview. All data recordings were password protected and stored in a locked filing cabinet along with other research data. Identities and quotes were anonymized. Although some respondents stated he/she was comfortable with being quoted, it was explained that all participants would be identified by fictitious initials and the organisations would not be directly named although area of expertise would be identified. I ensured each participant understood this and were comfortable with the anonymity process.

5.7: Barriers in the field

Choosing to conduct the fieldwork in a foreign country posed several enjoyable challenges as well as stressful ones. Having never travelled to India prior to this research, I did not know what to expect and the unfamiliarity proved difficult at times. The research plan initially intended to interview central government and locally elected officials to ascertain how, in their view, has FDI benefitted and/or harmed local economies and communities. During my fieldwork, I was unable to interview current government officials. I had difficulty finding e-mail addresses for government representatives as government websites were difficult to navigate and was often out of date with contact information. I did not receive a response from the officials that I was able to contact via e-mail. The snowballing technique that was occasionally employed led to contacts with other researchers and development experts but not local government officials and I was unable to access these people independently.

I had also intended to interview TNCs to explore their assessment of the impact, both positive and negative, their company has brought to the local economy and communities. However, I was unable to secure interviews with TNCs as well. Steve Tombs and David Whyte (2003) explore the difficulty of researching harm and crime committed by powerful agents such as corporations and state governments in their book ‘Unmasking the Crimes of the Powerful: Scrutinizing States and Corporations’. Tombs and Whyte (2003, p.4) contend that a key aspect of corporate and state power is to ensure that:

Their “activities” (a shorthand term used here for acts and omissions) be obscured, be as invisible, and remain as absent from the public gaze and scrutiny as possible.

Mullings (1999) and Thomas (1993) both discuss the difficulties in researching those with power. Thomas (1993, p.80) describes “important people in big companies” as visible yet inaccessible and explains the difficulties in gaining access to interviews with them or in making cold calls to companies:

Moreover, most businesses, no matter how small have gatekeepers who keep an eye on the comings and goings of strangers. Large corporations, especially ones with trade secrets to hide, have gates, guards and security devices. ..You can’t just walk into an office suite and expect to strike up a conversation or hang out and observe the scene. (p.82)

I faced similar barriers described by Thomas (1993) in obtaining interviews with employees with TNCs during my time in India. When I did not receive responses from my e-mails to TNCs, I did attempt to make cold calls to a few TNCs. However, TNCs (as with all of the facilities for my interviews) have a security desk with guards and sign in procedures for visitors. When I did not have a scheduled appointment coupled with language barriers, I could not manage to obtain any interviews this way.

Tombs and Whyte (1995) argue that despite the social harm caused by corporations and the state there is a lack of research investigating crimes of corporations. This is argued to have resulted from several factors including difficulty gaining access behind the ‘corporate veil’, obtaining funding for such projects as well as problems disseminating findings as many corporations have funding ties with universities (Tombs and Whyte, 1995, p.4). One important consequence of the relative absence of research concerning corporate and state crime, Tombs and Whyte (1995, p.7) contend, is that the methodologies for researching powerful corporations are not developed and:

…there is very little experience for future researchers to draw upon as a methodological resource. There are no examples of texts organized around a sustained concern for methodological issues raised in the processes of “researching the powerful”, either within criminology or indeed across social science.

While it is true that my research topic was not solely focused on corporate harm or crime, my contact letter to potential participants did explain that I was investigating the negative social impacts of FDI to India and this may have put off TNC and government officials from talking with me. As Tombs and Whyte (1995) describe, there are roadblocks to gaining access to powerful corporations and I did not know how to navigate around these access problems.

By not interviewing TNCs, there is a perspective missing in this thesis. I was able to access interviews with business associations in India and this helped to provide a corporate perspective in how FDI is providing benefits and costs to local communities and economies. I also used documentary analysis and interviews from broadcast media to try and fill in the gaps from lack of interviews with TNCs and government officials. Thus, interview data regarding the social and economic impact of FDI to India is provided by elite policy stakeholders and business associations in India but not from the TNCs themselves. Although it is doubtful interviews with TNCs would have provided admission of harm or crime committed by the TNC, by not talking with them they did not have the chance to defend themselves against some of the accusations that elite policy stakeholders made against them. Furthermore by not interviewing TNCs, I was unable to hear in their own words how they feel their investment has helped Indian communities and economies. In retrospect, I could have analyzed corporate reports from particular TNCs’ websites to get further insight into how specifically TNCs were contributing to development initiatives. However, constraints to length and word count of the thesis would have made this difficult.

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